Saturday, April 5, 2014

Andro village - a glimpse of the past

Andro village is located about 25 km east of Imphal. The drive is picturesque, the road winding through mountains, fields and pineapple orchards. The paddy fields and pineapples, I was told, would be turned into a riot of colour after the rainy season. 

We stopped at a spot and scampered up an extremely steep slope. The view was impressive, in spite of being predominantly brown in April. 

Once we scampered up, I wondered how we reached there. The slope was probably about 40 degrees. Climbing down involved some effort to avoid slipping and sliding down the sleep slope. 

The pine trees presented a pretty sight on the way to Andro village. I wondered whether some deforestation may have affected the environment. 

As we approached Andro, this part part of the Imphal valley stretched out green, with a lot of activity in the fields, all fueled by the irrigation system.

The tribal inhabitants of Manipur used to worship the forces of Nature responsible for creation, represented by Fire. Lord Panam Ningthou is the deity of Andro Village. A Fire has been burning for ages, according to local legend, and must be kept going for ever and ever. Teams of villagers are assigned the sacred duty of tending to the sacred fire. Since photography is not allowed inside, one of the villagers came out and carefully closed the door. The temple is dark, cool and peaceful inside. In the centre, a small Fire burns. 

The Andro Heritage Complex has preserved the homes and crafts of several communities and tribes that have inhabited Manipur. 

The Meitei (or Meetei) community is considered quite advanced, their homes are solid in construction, and permanent in nature. 

Several varieties of pottery are on display in the complex. A unique feature (or process) is that Manipuri pottery is fashioned by hand, without the use of the 'potter's wheel'.

Most of the homes are mini-museums, displaying pottery, woven baskets, weapons, clothing and musical instruments. 

Some of the artefacts go back several centuries. 

A local distillery is on display, used by tribals to concoct a local brew by fermenting rice. This tradition still exists, as I was to see in a while.

Sharp instruments were used to create designs on the pottery. 

Baskets like these, woven from bamboo, were used by wealthier sections of society to store clothes and household items. 

Baskets like these are used even today to ctach fish in lakes and rivers. There are several interesting designs on display. 

A close-up of a fishing basket reveals an intricate design that traps fish once they get swept inside, and are prevented from escaping.

Raised platforms like these were used to store food, while a flame lit below would serve the purpose of preservation and slow cooking.

Woven baskets like these are used all across Manipur for carrying loads over large distances.

Before the advent of Hinduism and other religions, the Meitei people used to worship Fire, represented through objects like these.

Grass skirts used by tribals is on display, along with other objects used in daily life including cooking utensils, and spinning wheels. 

Bows and arrows were used for hunting human enemies as well as animals, for food. The 'string' of the bow is actually made of a thin yet resilient bamboo strip. It goes 'ttwwaanngg' as you pull and release it. The quiver is made of leather, decorated with patterns. 

This is the home of the Paomei people.

The motif reveals that this tribe used to be head hunters. The figures are seen standing, heads of slain enemies in hand. Further, the figures are shown standing on ground level, with several heads of killed enemies depicted as being buried under the ground, indicating the superiority of the Paomei.

Manipur was inhabited by a number of communities and tribes. Colourfully attired dolls on display in a neighbouring home reveal the range of clothes worn by the Manipuri people. 

The Kuki tribes were nomadic, their homes used to be flimsy, made of lightweight materials that could quickly be set up and dismantled as they wandered from place to place in search of greener pastures, literally speaking.

Some people, like the Meitei and others, were permanent settlers, as demonstrated by the materials used in the construction of their homes. Their homes were permanent. Every tribe had a different style of construction and designs. 

Manipuri people have traditionally been artistic and musical. The Manipuri dance form is one of the most well known forms of Indian Classical dance. Some of the homes in the complex demonstrate a number of stringed and percussion instruments, 

A sculpted Totem pole and Obelisk are seen at the centre of the complex. 

A tribal lady works quietly on small pieces of pottery. 

A view of the Andro Tourist Complex with several traditional homes in the background.

Yet another interesting experience in Andro Village is the ages old tradition of brewing a local drink made out of rice. The 'distillery' is almost the same as the one on display in one of the mini-museums, where the apparatus is several centuries old.

We arrived just in time to see a young tribal lady packing freshly brewed rice ale, still hot after the distillation process. 

The ladies showed me several pots of rice in various stages of fermentation. 

I had the privilege of sampling two lots of rice ale, in two stages of fermentation.

Be careful, Mr Fly, look before you leap. You aren't gong to last more than a split second should you decide to jump in.

Brewing rice ale is one of the professions in Andro village. The drink is very well known in Manipur. Here I am, with the two distillery experts, before we head back to Imphal. 

On the way back, we stopped for a few minutes at a spot to remember a young Doctor who had been attacked by a swarm of bees as he rode back home on his scooter. He did not survive the attack. 

Peering through the pine trees, I could see the Imphal valley stretching ahead. We would need to meander down the winding roads, back to the traffic and cacophony of Imphal.

Santhei Natural Park is a pretty lake not too far from Andro village. Being a holiday, the area was extremely crowded, being a popular picnic spot. Better avoided, I had thought, and made our way back to Imphal. 


The posts in this series are listed below.

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